Get your thumbs ready, it’s thumbprint time

Thumbprint cookies are one of the two cookies that will always appear on my holiday tray. (The other mainstay is pecan sandies.) The centers are filled with jams in golden orange and/or deep red hues, reminiscent of golden topaz or ruby stones. It’s hard to resist picking one up. Give in.

My first memory of falling for these cookies occurred sometime around first grade. I remember sitting at the table, rolling out tablespoons of dough, while my mom stamped her thumb into each one and filled the crevice with a little jam. My dexterity has improved since then, so I now help top the cookies with jam. But my mom still has superior thumb print skills and is the sole stamper to this day. Really, she is doing that as I type this post.

The base is essentially a butter cookie, with almond extract replacing the vanilla. Almond extract has a clean, sweet flavor which adds a je ne sais quois mystery to almost any cookie. The buttery, lightly sweetened base is complimented by a fruity jam and a coating of pecans. Fill these cookies with a jam that tastes like the fruit it’s made with. I grew up with homemade stuff, but you can find quality versions at a farmers market or grocery store–Trader Joe’s low-sugar apricot or raspberry flavors are my picks.

Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Thumbprint Cookies

(Makes about 3 1/2 dozen)

Ingredients

  •  1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped pecans (feel free to toast them prior to chopping, but it’s not necessary)
  • About 1/2 cup red currant, raspberry and/or apricot jam, stirred (I like to use my homemade jam, but Trader Joe’s low sugar varieties are the ideal substitute.)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer, or stand mixer with paddle attachment, until creamy.  Gradual add sugar, blending well. Add egg yolks and almond extract, beating until blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and salt until thoroughly blended.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Beat until thoroughly blended. Chill/refrigerate the dough for one hour. (Hey, I know some of you have ZERO space in the fridge during the holidays. Feel free to chill this outside, covered, if it’s cold enough.)
  5. Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Lightly beat egg whites.  Roll each ball into the egg whites and then roll in the finely chopped pecans. Place the balls 2-inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Lightly press thumb into each cookie to make an indentation. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each thumb print.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are barely golden brown on the bottom. ( You might sacrifice a cookie to check if they are done.)  Cool 1-minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire racks and let cook completely.
Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

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Drunken Bundt

I put too much rum in the glaze. Thus, the drunken Bundt was born. It was also born out of necessity: I needed a portable, simple and autumn-flavored dessert for Thanksgiving.

I know, I know. It’s not a pie, the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. But hear me out before you discard this Bundt as holiday blasphemy.

drunkenbundtside_web

Drunken Bundt, from its best side | Cred: Melanie Cohen

After taking a Bundt cake to two birthday celebrations, I realized how much easier it is to transport. My extra large studio lacks space to store a cake carrier. Successfully transporting (usually via metro) a four layer frosted cake with my homemade carrier, aka whatever leftover shipping box I have jimmied into a cake vessel, is a perilous feat that sometimes results in desserts arriving at the destination lopsided and “unpretty.”

With a Bundt there are no layers to cut and you can ice it once it reaches the final destination. A quick covering of plastic wrap is all the cake needs to become instantly transportable. The two minute glaze can be made the day of and transported in a Mason jar or other small container.

Flavor-wise, this cake roars autumn. The cake starts with a sweet potato (or pumpkin) base and then you add your typical fall spices—ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves—making it well-deserving of a spot on your holiday table.

I jazzed (ahem boozed) up the original Washington Post recipe by nixing the dusting of powdered sugar and replacing it with a rum glaze that is then topped crystallized ginger, chopped pecans and unsweetened coconut. First time I made the glaze, I used two tablespoons of rum and WHOA. You’d have thought Jack Sparrow took over my kitchen. If that’s your thing, go for it. If not, use only 1 ½ tablespoons of rum.

drunkenbundtoverhead_web

Drunken Bundt | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Did I convince you to forgo the pie this Thanksgiving? Hope so! If not, please do make this cake for another occasion. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Let me know in the comments.

Drunken Bundt

Adapted from Washington Post

Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake; 12-16 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground cloves
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 15 ounces canned sweet potato puree (or canned pure pumpkin puree)

Glaze

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ to 2 tbsp, for distinctively drunken cake, rum
  • milk, as needed (water will do in a pinch)
  • handful of chopped pecans, toasted if you have time
  • handful of chopped crystallized candid ginger slices (Tip: the candied ginger slices from Trader Joe’s are much easier to slice than the candid ginger cubes.)
  • handful of unsweetened coconut, toasted if you have time (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with butter and flour or with a butter and flour cooking spray
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.
  3. Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium speed for 4 minutes, or until quite creamy. Make sure to occasionally stop and scrape the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add the dark brown sugar, then beat for 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition, to blend. Blend in the molasses and vanilla extract on low speed.
  5. Add the sweet potato puree and beat on low speed to thoroughly incorporate it. The mixture might look slightly curdled—it’s fine and there’s no need to worry as it will even out later.
  6. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, stopping to scrape down the bowl after each one and mixing until just combined.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in the cake comes out clean. The baked cake will pull away slightly from the sides of the baking pan.
  8. Transfer (in the pan) to a wire cooling rack to cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a separate cooling rack and remove the pan. Let cool completely.
  9. Make the glaze. Put the powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add the rum and one tablespoon of milk. Mix until combined. If the mixture appears too thick to drizzle, add milk one teaspoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Drizzle glaze over cake and then sprinkle with pecans, candied ginger and coconut (if using).
    (If you transport the cake. Mix the powdered sugar, rum and milk in a Mason jar, and combine the pecans, candied ginger and coconut in a separate jar or plastic bag. Ice the cake once you arrive.)
  10. Store in an airtight container for up to two days.

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Pecan Sandies—An Unfussy Cookie Recipe

For me, the best way to celebrate—whether it’s for a birthday, job promotion, graduation or simply a good friend who always has your back—is to make someone one of their favorite food things.

Today, I’m celebrating with pecan sandies. What’s the occasion? My mom’s birthday. It’s one of her (and my) favorite cookies.

Pecan sandies are a simple, unfussy shortbread cookie; a crumbly and slightly sweetened mixture of butter, pecans and vanilla. Once baked and cooled, the cookies are rolled in powdered sugar and have the appeared of rounded snowy mountain peaks–likely why they often appear in holiday cookie trays. But being a favorite cookie in my family, they are made year-round.

PecanSandiesNaked_CredMel

Pecan Sandies (before the powdered sugar dusting) | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Because these contain only a few ingredients, you want to use the best quality. Store-brand butter is fine, but use high-quality vanilla and pecans. For the nuts, purchase them from store’s bulk bin versus buying a package. Bulk bins usually have a higher turnover rate, so you won’t find rancid nuts mixed in the bunch.

And if you can find Georgia pecans, this is the recipe to use them in.

You can also make the cookies into crescent or finger shapes. (Remember back when you made snakes out of Play Doh? Channel those skills. And it’s okay to eat this dough.) I am rarely able to roll each one the same width or length and often end up with a good chunk of underdone and overdone cookies in each batch. I’ll stick with the ball shaped version.

PecanSandieCrescents

A rare batch of relatively same-sized crescent shaped pecan sandies. Then I broke one. Oh well, still tastes the same

P.S. Your family may know these by one of their alternate names, which include Mexican wedding cookies and Russian tea cakes. The Los Angeles Times delved into why there are so many names for this one cookie.

 Pecan Sandies

(Makes 6 dozen, can halve recipe)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp water
  • 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fine chopped pecans
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

 Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and water. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Add half of flour, mix until combined; repeat with second half of flour. Add two cups (all) of the pecans and mix until evenly distributed. Dough will be stiff. Refrigerate dough for one to two hours.
  3. Roll dough into one-inch balls (about a tablespoon) or roll into finger or crescent shapes. (Shaping the dough, no matter which option, is a great way to involve younger bakers.)
  4. Bake on parchment lined ungreased cookie sheet for 17-22 minutes at 325 F. Cookies will be done with the bottom is a light golden brown. The tops may still appear off-white. The bottom color is the key to knowing when this cookie is done.
  5. Let sandies cool completely. Then roll in powdered sugar.
PecanSandiesDressed

Pecan sandies are done. Let’s eat.

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